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From The Asylum Library: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Every now and again, as is true of most motion picture studios, The Asylum will look toward the world of letters for inspiration. The public domain offers an array of spectacular, action-packed, thrilling, and - most importantly - free works ripe for the updating. In this occasional column, I'll take a look at the literary giants from which The Asylum has borrowed. Today, we look at the man responsible for two Asylum films to date, but perhaps he's best known as the creator of that crazy vine-swinging white dude in the jungle, Tarzan; Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Notice how the parrot"s mean-mugging the camera?
Mr. Burroughs, a native Chicagoan, was born ten years after the end of the Civil War to a retired Union Colonel and his wife. For the first part of his life it seemed E.R. was destined to follow in his father's footsteps, attending several military academies as a child and adolescent. But when it came time to take the entrance exam to West Point, old E.R. didn't cut the mustard, and failed the exam. This lead him to join the military as an enlisted man, but this too was to be a brief acceptance: shortly after, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that made him ineligible for service. So to the private sector E.R. was cast.

What followed were years of aimlessness and low-paying jobs, a passionless existence for E.R. but for the introduction and acquisition of one Emma Centennia Hulbert as his wife. 

But then one night, while working as a pencil sharpener - yep, that used to be a job - E.R. discovered the Pulp Magazines and their seedy little stories inside. Though not impressed with the material, E.R. was taken by how popular they were, giving him one of the greatest reasons ever for deciding to become a writer:

"...[I knew that] if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines."

Now, taken by itself, this is a pretty cocky statement. But when you realize that's exactly what old E.R. proceeded to do, it's kinda baller. 

Over the next 40 years, E.R. would write more than 80 novels and short stories, creating some of the finest and most-enduring literature of the 20th Century across a variety of genres: adventures series like "Tarzan," sci-fi series like the "John Carter" or "Pellucidar" novels, western and historical novels, etc. Along with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.R. Haggard, the man practically invented - certainly exemplified - the adventure novel. So influential was he, in fact, that there's a freaking crater on Mars named for the dude. A crater. On Mars.

As for E.R. and The Asylum, to date they have adapted two of his novels, both in 2009: Mark Atkins' adaptation of Princess of Mars (also the inspiration for James Cameron's Avatar as well as the upcoming John Carter of Mars, the live-action directorial debut of Andrew Stanton, writer/director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E), and the C. Thomas Howell-helmer The Land That Time Forgot

In regards to these films, or rather their source materials, there are sequels to both: there are 11 novels in the "Barsoom" series, of which Princess of Mars is the first, and The Land That Time Forgot is the first part of what Burroughs called his "Caspak Trilogy," followed therefore by two sequels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of Time's Abyss. So somebody get Antonio Sabato Jr. oiled up and lasso C. Thomas Howell back to the helm, cuz these are movies just waiting to be made, folks!

So much more than just the man who gave us Tarzan, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs is thrilling in a way comparable novels written today can't be; they come with a sense of true exploration, the genuine wonder that comes from living in a world you can't entirely know, of there still being secrets to parts of your very planet - a foreign concept to most of us today.

Great for kids, thrilling still to adults, download you some free ERB today. God bless public domain!


  1. Tarzan is terrific, but it's been done to death. Princess of Mars is miserable, tho. I think it could make a great movie, but it would require a lot of rework and would basically just be riding the ERB name. There's no explanation for how John Carter gets to Mars. The plot is just him being trained to be the biggest badass among a whole race of badasses... And then the ending is no better than the beginning. It's just hand-waving nonsense akin to, but without the social commentary of, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

    Hollywood has had pretty bad luck adapting 19th century science fiction, especially when a lot of casual racism (read Dr. Doolittle) has to be papered over.

    /serious face

  2. Thanks for the ERB Crater on Mars link on my site.
    Those interested in some of our Asylum features may want to visit:
    Princess of Az-Lium: A Mars Novel Serialized in 80 Chapters By Den Valdron
    There's more if you want 'em